Hong Kong police expect first anti-riot vehicle with water cannons to arrive this month
While the first of three vehicles bought in 2016 is set to arrive soon, police say it will not be deployed in time for July 1 rallies because of time needed to properly train officers
The first of three anti-riot vehicles equipped with water cannons will arrive in Hong Kong this month after a two-year wait – but the controversial armoured car will not be deployed during the annual July 1 pro-democracy rally.
A senior police source told the Post on Wednesday that the manufacturer would send experts to train officers for a week in the use of the Mercedes-Benz crowd control vehicle, which boasts 15 high-pressure cannons.
The force also plans to send officers to European countries, including France and Belgium, to learn how to use the equipment from their overseas counterparts.
The anti-riot vehicle, tailor-made in France, gives police a new resource to deal with protesters.
Tender documents show the two roof cannons can fire more than 1,200 litres of water per minute over a distance of 50 metres. Six cameras are installed on each vehicle.
The water can be mixed with tear gas or liquid dye that allows police to identify suspects after they are dispersed.
Police proposed buying the cannons in the government’s annual budget announced in February 2015, two months after the 79-day Occupy protests ended.
Andy Tsang Wai-hung, the police commissioner at the time, denied his request for the vehicles was in response to the 2014 protests.
He said the decision was prompted by a post-operation review to ensure the force was well-equipped to maintain order.
Human rights groups and some legislators raised concerns at the time that water cannons had caused deaths during protests in other countries. In 2016, a South Korean farming activist was killed by injuries sustained from a water cannon.
The source told the Post that police were considering requiring anti-riot officers to be on the receiving end of water cannons during training so they could understand their impact.
“The manufacturer will send experts to Hong Kong to coach PTU instructors on how to drive, operate and maintain the cars so that the instructors can later train their subordinates,” the source said.
The three vehicles cost a total of HK$16.59 million (US$2.11 million), which was 38.5 per cent cheaper than the HK$27 million earmarked in the 2015 budget, according to the Government Logistics Department.
The source said the force was in the process of drafting a manual to designate responsibilities for each team member in the four-seater vehicle.
“We will state clearly under what circumstances the vehicles could be deployed and operated. Factors such as the number of protesters involved and their distance from police will be considered,” the source said.
“We do not necessarily want to use the cannon to its maximum strength as our aim is to disperse crowds and keep a safe distance between them and police. We will decide the strength at a later stage but safety is always our top priority.”
Given the time needed for tests and training, the source added, it would be impossible to deploy the vehicle in time for the July 1 rally that coincides with the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
But he said the force was well equipped to handle any trouble that day and the new cars were just “an additional tactical option”.
The other two vehicles are expected to arrive in the middle of the year.
Deputy security minister Sonny Au Chi-kwong told the Legislative Council in January that police hoped the vehicles could enter service by end of this year. He also pledged to use them “only when necessary”.
“If the situation allows, officers will first issue a warning before using the vehicles. Officers must maintain a high level of restraint at all times in the use of force,” Au said, adding the use of force would cease once the purpose was achieved.
The contractor, Zung Fu, which is also the dealer of Mercedes-Benz cars in Hong Kong and Macau, was chosen from six bidders and awarded the contract in June 2016.